New fund directs resources to underserved libraries in Allegheny County

The Allegheny Regional Asset District board of directors has unanimously approved a new fund offering $5 million in grants to libraries in “distressed” Allegheny County municipalities.

The Transformative Community Library Fund, which will be distributed over four years, is meant to “strengthen the future of public libraries in our communities,” and create more equity in the allocation of resources among area libraries, according to a June 3 RAD press release.

“Few understand the hopes and needs of a community more so than its librarians,” says Sylvia Fields, secretary/treasurer of RAD’s board of directors. “They are counselors, educators, advisors, researchers, caretakers, and friends of their communities. We believe this investment will continue to strengthen a library’s connection to the community and increase equity for all.”

As PublicSource and WESA reported last month, library funding in Allegheny County is uneven and inequitable. Disparities between library resources in affluent and distressed communities are the result of both the sheer number of municipalities in the county and a funding system that sends county tax revenue to libraries with higher circulation and more local funding, they found. For example, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh gets three times as much money from RAD than all 45 suburban libraries combined.

Rich Hudic, executive director of RAD, says that the fund could potentially go beyond the $5 million outlay if they get worthy proposals.

“Quite frankly,” Hudic says, “I’m pretty certain if requests that are quality, that are impactful, that are transformative, should they exceed the need, I assure you that the Library Committee would consider those opportunities.”

RAD says they have already invited eligible libraries to apply with a minimum request of $25,000. Goals for the Transformative Community Library Fund include expanding and enhancing library experiences for patrons, growing relationships among libraries so they can optimize operations and share services, building and sustaining staff and board leadership, and centering libraries in community building and neighborhood development strategies, says RAD.

RAD is responsible for distributing half of the revenue generated by a 1% county-wide tax to regional assets like libraries and parks. According to their website, they have invested more than $4 billion in county institutions since 1995.